Sunday, November 30, 2014

Oconee County Holding Open Meetings on Mars Hill Road, Future Of Courthouse And Upcoming Legislative Session

Open Vs. Executive Session

Oconee County will hold three meetings between now and Dec. 11 that will provide an overview of the Mars Hill Road widening, a discussion of space needs for the county in coming years, and the expectations of the county’s representatives to the General Assembly as that body gets ready to meet in January

The meeting on Mars Hill Road will be from 6 to 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Oconee County Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road, west of Butler’s Crossing. Project design details will be presented to the public.

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners is holding a called meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 9 in the Courthouse in Watkinsville to discuss future space requirements of Oconee County offices, with a focus on non-judicial departments now using the Courthouse and the Courthouse Annex across the street.

The legislative overview meeting will start at 10 a.m. on Dec. 11 at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, 55 Nancy Drive in Watkinsville.

The Mars Hill Road meeting was announced two weeks ago by the Georgia Department of Transportation, and the legislative session is an annual event hosted by the Chamber.

The called meeting on space needs is the result of a push by the four voting commissioners to open up discussion of the future of the Courthouse.

Nov. 11 BOC Meeting

At the Nov. 11 meeting of the Board of Commissioners, Commissioner John Daniell used discussion of a proposed memorandum of agreement with the Georgia Department of Public Health to express frustration with the lack of action by the BOC on the future of the Courthouse.

The county decided to take no action on an agreement with the Department of Public Health after learning that the state no longer needs the space in the Courthouse Annex, which the county leases.

“I think it is really important that as a group and in public we talk about our space needs and move forward with that,” Daniell said. “We haven’t accomplished it at all.”

The future of the Courthouse was a central issue as the commissioners prepared for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum, which voters approved on Nov. 4, but it hasn’t been discussed openly since those meetings in May.

At that time, the Board decided not to include a new judicial facility in the SPLOST project list but rather to use money from SPLOST 2004 to provide a security improvements at the existing Courthouse.

Daniell’s Proposal

Daniell proposed that the four voting commissioners form a subcommittee of the BOC to grapple with the space issue, which results largely from expected increased demands of space from the Superior Court.

BOC Chairman Melvin Davis, who votes only when the other four members of the BOC cast tie votes, objected to Daniell’s proposal, saying he should be part of the discussion.

“The problem is, every time we approach the subject, I run into a brick wall about it,” Daniell responded.

He said Davis would be involved in the discussion even if he were not a part of the subcommittee since his office is in the Courthouse.

Davis’ Proposal

Davis proposed instead that the BOC go into executive session to discuss the appraisals of “various pieces of property the Board needs to review.” Executive sessions are closed to the public.

The video below contains Davis’ argument.

Davis’ proposal drew a strong reaction from Commissioner Jim Luke.

“If we form a subcommittee and go behind closed doors, I’m not in favor of it,” he said.

The Commission needs to hear from citizens, he said.

His comments are in the video below.

Dec. 9 Meeting

The commissioners agreed in the end to begin discussions in public about the Courthouse and space needs of the county, and the meeting on Dec. 9 is the result.

Representatives of the departments now in the Courthouse and in the Courthouse Annex across the street will make presentations running through 8 p.m.

Included are representatives of the Tax Commissioner, as well as of the county departments that use the Courthouse.

These are Property Appraisal, Information Technology, Finance, Human Resources, Economic Development, Strategic and Long-range Planning, and the county administration.

Planning and Code Enforcement, now using the Courthouse Annex, also will make a presentation.

Other Meetings

The Georgia Department of Transportation announced the meeting on Mars Hill Road on Nov. 14 as a way to advise citizens of details of the project, which is underway.

The meeting is expected to include engineers from the Georgia DOT as well as representatives of G.P.’s Enterprises, which is the project contractor.

The public will be able to view layouts of the project.

The meeting at the Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 11 is to include Rep. Regina Quick and Rep. Chuck Williams as well as Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represent the county in the General Assembly.

The members of the BOC, mayors of the county’s four cities, the Chamber of Commerce executive committee, and members of the county’s Industrial Development Authority also have been invited to attend.

Full Video

The full video of the discussion of county space needs at the Nov. 11 BOC meeting is below.


Beanne said...

Thank you Jim Luke for not letting Melvin go behind the closed doors again.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to Commissioners Daniell and Luke for keeping this meeting public. It's important to the City of Watkinsville to keep the county functions in the county seat instead of building a Taj Mahal elsewhere in the county as Walton and Jackson counties did.